Tag Archives: opinions

Of end notes and Endnote

And also Zotero, Mendeley, footnotes, referencing, and citation styles, although they don’t begin with E!

Accurate referencing, in the style required by the situation, is a great help to many readers and a cause of anxiety for many academic writers. The reasons for wanting to get it right range for the moral – it is right that we acknowledge our sources, for their sakes, for the sake of transparency, and so that future researchers can trace our steps – to the practical – it’s easier to read and easier to get something published. However, there are several major referencing styles in use and also every academic journal or university department has their own ideas. These can range from the opinions of an individual with which you can disagree if necessary to strict rules which can lose you marks or a significant career opportunity.

When I was studying a joint honours degree as an undergraduate, each of my two departments, philosophy and theology, had a home-grown set of guidelines. They were, of course, completely different. (It might have been even harder if they were similar and slightly different!) I had to learn to use both. I also developed an opinion about which was best!

Actually, my opinion about referencing styles isn’t so much a matter of which I prefer to use in writing. I find that inline citations and footnotes are about the same difficulty level in the writing process, even entered manually into a word processing programme (both are quicker if you can get a computerised system set up well). End notes are slightly to write harder because they just are further away from the text they reference. It’s more a matter of what I prefer to read. I find inline citations, usually a version of the Chicago author-date system, visually annoying. I think they disturb the flow of the text and make it harder to grasp a whole sentence or paragraph quickly. I also find that author-date systems where the date is the publication referenced drive me up the wall when historical authors are in play; how does it make sense to write (Plato, 2009) or something like that? (I’m well aware that there are chains of logic and it does, at some level, make sense, but I find it hard to process as a reader, and although the Plato example might be obvious, some nineteenth or early twentieth century authors produce very confusing references under that system.)

Instead, I prefer footnotes. In an academic book – and even in other nonfiction – I like to see the references on the page as I read. I can skip them if I’m not that interested, but I can see whether there’s a sensible-looking reference even if I don’t look it up. (Have you ever read a dodgy book which is apparently full of Science with References but when you actually read some of the end notes, the evidence for ‘snails self-medicate by eating mint’ turns out to be someone’s Instagram post of a snail on a mint plant? This is a fictional example but similar experiences can be had in the popular science or self-help aisles of most bookshops.)

Perhaps I read too much Pratchett at an impressionable age, but I am also fond of the footnote as a device for including extra information, asides, tangents, jokes, understatement, sarcasm, and other bonus content. It is possible to separate these out, using footnotes for comments and inline citations or end notes for references, but the advantage of doing both is that readers are able to see everything in the same place. As a reader, I can judge whether a footnote needs detailed attention by the length and shape, so I don’t find it annoying to have both right there on the page.

Do you have a preference? Are you one of the many academics who has grumbled about having to change referencing styles in order to submit to a journal? Are there advantages to end notes which I’ve missed?